consulta

Consultation

Convention number 169 of the International Labor Organization convention claims that the native population should be consulted before a mine is actually constructed. Moreover, the indigenous population should be able to benefit from the profits of the mining projects.

In reality, however, this convention is hardly ever applied. The voices of the local population are frequently neglected and the inhabitants lack sufficient information about the construction and exploitation of new mining projects.

The main points of interest are as follows:

–         The consent of local population groups should be sought when it concerns mining projects that influence one’s daily life

–         Local inhabitants have the right to participate freely in policy and development processes that influence their lives

–         They should be able to participate freely on each level of the formulation, implementation and evaluation of the measures and programs that affect them.

–         Consultations should be implemented by means of accurate procedures in mutual trust and by the institutions that represent the local communities.

–         The consultations should take place in the presence of the local representatives. If not, they will be considered as invalid, following the requirements of the convention.

 

Local communities should be able to decide upon their own priorities for development, since these choices will strongly influence their lives, religion, institutions and spiritual well-being. In this way, they can have control over the economic, social and cultural development of their own territories. Local communities should also be entitled to receive sufficient information about the construction of a new mine. They should be given a voice in the determination of the juridical conditions regarding the economic, social and environmental impact, as well as with regard to all phases of the mining exploitation and its closure.

 

Yet, all these conditions are not met in Guatemala. The exploitation of mines is a relatively new phenomenon compared to the mining industry in other nations. It was only after the theoretical end of the civilian war, in 1996, that Guatemala started to attract foreign investors. Montana Mining – a daughter company of Goldcorp – could benefit from the war’s end and pretended to have consulted the population living in the San Marcos Region before the mine was constructed. However, there is not the least documentation about this public consultation available, neither is any organisation in possession of documents that can prove the existence of these “alleged” consultations.  Apparently no one of the local population has ever received any information of the – at that time rising – “mining giant. Guatemala has accepted the ILO 169, without ever consulting the local inhabitants of the region where the mine has been built. Despite this lack of information and consultation, the mine arose in the local environment, with all its consequences.

More up to the south, in the north-western part of Argentina, close to Patagonia, we find a city of 30,000 inhabitants, i.e. Esquel. This rather small city evokes wide interest from several mining companies since it is surrounded by a big lake and located closely to mountains where loads of gold ores can be found. One particular mining company established itself in this region at the beginning of this millennium and started to exploit the local richness from this moment onwards. Upon this intrusion, the local inhabitants informed themselves about the construction of mines in other surrounding communities that faced the same threats and negative effects of mining on their territory. It was found that open pit mining would result in the pollution of the ecosystem and much needed groundwater for the harvest. The contamination of this natural resource would pose a serious threat to their living conditions. As a consequence, the protest of the local community started to grow and people started to defend their territories. In 2003, the local population organised a referendum ‘Minería en Esquel? Si or No.’ Over 80 percent of the people voted ‘No.’ The mining company went to court in order to continue its plans. In 2006, however, they received a definite negative advice and had to leave the territory of Esquel. This legal decision was a big victory for the local population.

 

At present, half of the newly mined gold ores originates from indigenous territories. Mining multinationals often deliberately fail to meet the consultation conditions. Local communities often lack sufficient knowledge about their rights and do only speak the native language of their local community, which often differs from the language that is used in national juridical affairs. Several local communities are now becoming more and more aware of the negative effects and their rights, and therefore start to protest against the constructions and exploitations of mines. Yet, many mining multinationals deliberately choose to establish themselves in smaller local communities, because they still hope that the local people will not oppose themselves to the construction of gold mines, or at least not until the companies have settled there permanently.